Page header image

Wrist Fracture

What is a broken wrist?

There are 8 bones in the wrist. They attach to the bones in the forearm and the bones in the hand. When your child breaks a wrist, he or she may have cracked or broken one or more of these wrist bones or the ends of the forearm bones that connect with the wrist bones.

What is the cause?

The usual causes of a wrist fracture are:

  • a fall
  • a direct hit to the wrist

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • pain, swelling, bruising, or tenderness
  • trouble moving the wrist

How is it diagnosed?

Your provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and how the injury happened. He or she will examine your child. Your child will have X-rays of the wrist.

A child's bones are different from an adult’s bones in a couple ways. A child’s bones are more flexible and may crack rather than break. Or they may just buckle slightly. Also, the bones are still growing from areas near the ends of the bones called growth plates. A fracture in a growth plate may affect the growth of the bone but it may be hard to see with X-rays. Sometimes special tests are needed to diagnose fractures in the growth plate.

How is it treated?

The treatment depends on the type of fracture. If the broken bone is crooked, your healthcare provider will straighten it. Your child will be given medicine first so the straightening is not painful. Sometimes surgery is needed to put the bones back into the correct position.

The wrist may need to be set in a splint or cast to keep it from moving while it heals.

How can I take care of my child?

Follow the full course of treatment your healthcare provider prescribes. Also:

  • To keep swelling down and help relieve pain, your healthcare provider may tell you to:
    • Put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth on the injured area every 3 to 4 hours for up to 20 minutes at a time for the first day or two after the injury.
    • Keep the injured wrist up on pillows when your child sits or lies down.
    • Give your child pain medicine, such as ibuprofen, as directed by your provider. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, your child should not take the medicine for more than 10 days. Check with your healthcare provider before you give any medicine that contains aspirin or salicylates to a child or teen. This includes medicines like baby aspirin, some cold medicines, and Pepto-Bismol. Children and teens who take aspirin are at risk for a serious illness called Reye's syndrome.
  • If your child has a cast, make sure the cast does not get wet. Cover the cast with plastic when your child bathes. Avoid scratching the skin around the cast or poking things down the cast. This could cause an infection.

Depending on the type of injury and how it was treated, your child may need to do special exercises to help the wrist get stronger. Most of the time preteen children are so active that their legs get stronger and more flexible without physical therapy.

Keep all appointments for provider visits or tests. Call your healthcare provider if:

  • Your child has more pain, redness, warmth, or swelling.
  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child has a loss of feeling in the injured area.
  • The injured area looks pale, blue, or feels cold.

How long will the effects last?

Wrist fractures may take 6 to 12 weeks or longer to heal. Some fractures do not heal and need surgery. Some children may develop stiffness in their wrist. Fractures that go into the growth plate may affect future growth, sometimes resulting in a crooked wrist.

When can my child return to normal activities?

Everyone recovers from an injury at a different rate. Return to normal activities depends on how soon the wrist recovers, not by how many days or weeks it has been since the injury has happened. The goal is for your child to return to normal activities as soon as is safely possible. If your child returns too soon the injury could get worse.

Your child may return to normal activities when they have full range of motion in the wrist without pain. Your child's injured wrist, hand, and forearm need to have the same strength as the uninjured side. If your child returns to using the wrist too soon after a wrist fracture there could be problems with healing. It is very important to be sure that none of your child's activities cause wrist pain or tenderness.

How can a wrist fracture be prevented?

Most wrist fractures are caused by accidents that are not easy to prevent. Your child should wear protective wrist guards during activities like rollerblading.

Written by Pierre Rouzier, MD.
Pediatric Advisor 2012.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-01-30
Last reviewed: 2012-01-02
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2012 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
Page footer image